O.A.R.’s TOP TEN for 2012 Reply

Annually, we acknowledge those events of 2012 that stood out among the over 200 that our writers attended. As is our usual analytical technique, our selection process is based on impact- whether amusing, educational or thought-provoking… but definitely memorable. Our coverage of the Toronto shows gave us some efforts that we decided deserved special inclusion. We’d also like to pass on some statistics that our new website format made available to us.
               We average over 4,000 readers a month and have been sought out from 96 different countries. The Toronto Fringe was the most read; followed by the Brott NAO; Opera Kitchener’s ‘Don Giovanni’, RENT staged in Ottawa and the Stage West “DIVORCE PARTY”. The HPO performance titled ‘Wicked’ attracted the most comments!
Herewith our editorial team’s selections in calendar order

Blair, Rider-Shaw & chorus of SHAW's 42nd Street

Blair, Rider-Shaw & chorus of STRATFORD’s “42nd Street”

 “GOOD NIGHT DESDEMONA”; “STAGE DOOR” Theatre Erindale had two faultless presentations during 2012. So, a tie!  The former was directed by Daniel Levinson in a creative and re-focused progression. The result was sexy, vulgar, very contemporary and overall –funny. The cast of 5 were collectively superb and we knew from the get-go it would make this list. “STAGE DOOR” may be a 1940’s tale but director Heinar Piller’s interpretation made this a very contemporary blockbuster. The roles may be stereotypes but UTM bestowed a humanity and individuality on each one of the characters. Both of these offerings deserved repeat viewings!

“BEAUTY & THE BEAST” This musical, staged by Theatre Unlimited, intrinsically challenges its production team. Sets, costumes, orchestra and large cast are multiple hurdles for a director but Richard Henry overcame all obstacles to present one very enjoyable & entertaining show. A teen-aged thespian dynamo – Elizabeth Amos sang, danced & acted in every scene…her contribution was a full 100%. We emerged singing the title theme as did the rest of the Meadowvale attendees.

IN THE HEIGHTS”  This powerful musical drama staged by DANCAP managed to capture not only the look & style of the locale, but also emitted a sense of the atmosphere the play portrays. The costumes, special effects, choreography and direction by Michael Balderrama is faithful to both the off & on-Broadway performances. Such efforts only enhance the disappointment that Mr. Dan decided to take a hiatus from theatre production.

“THE CRUCIBLE”  Miller’s powerful anti-McCarthyism re-tell paraphrasing the 18th c. Eastern U.S. witch trials is a demanding work. There can be no crew slips, no weak cast performances and incisive directorial focus. Yo Mustafa is an accomplished actor and teacher, but his supervision is theatre that is as professional as it gets. His ability to exhort such elevated performances from the numerous young members of the cast as well as his (probably) more difficult-to-manage highly practised portrayers must have been a stress-inducer, par excellence! This W.E.S.T. offering was the equal of the SHAW Festival submission of a few years ago.

BROTT FESTIVAL  The N.A.O. summer programme is both entertaining and pedagogic. Mentoring by old pros allows selected musicological graduates to learn some valuable practical lessons. The concert that featured guest Martin Beaver received an O.M.G. (Oh my God) bannerline from our paper’s critic.  Poor man actually seemed to run out of superlatives in describing the techniques, selections and overall impression of the evening. Brott also had some other outstanding concert presentations, but it was this one that was dazzling & extraordinary.

OKLAHOMA”  To us, if we sing the lyrics all the way home, then the staging of this Rogers & Hammerstein smash hit is a success. We’ve seen some lousy (Stratford) efforts, and some super (Aquarius) versions. Theatre Sheridan’s take was faultless and spectacular. Director Tim French reprised an effort that again received the ‘immaculate’; “ingeniously refashioning”; creative adjectives he’s previously been awarded by our O.A.R. writers. Most important, we once again witnessed the full-measure contribution of the support staff…a Sheridan tradition. Like the title theme, OKLAHOMA was “Way O.K.!”

“THE 39 STEPS” and “DIVORCE PARTY – The Musical”  Another tie. Both are comedies albeit about somewhat tragic scenarios. The former- espionage & the Nazis; the latter – marital breakdown. STAGE WEST did a super job with both. 39 Steps was written (pseudonymously) by a previous Governor General and was supposed to be a thriller. Dayna Tekatch’s direction gave it some not-only-quotable but imitative moments that like most of the audience, we took home to regale to friends & acquaintances (especially the facial expressions & asides by lead – Peter Mikhail). DIVORCE PARTY earned a love/hate response. We too, had a moment of discomfort when one of the supportive ladies brings in her tea-tray of dildos, but overall, we were sympathetic to the three women and their desire to be of help and support to one of their own. The sole male – Scott Ahearn, deserves awards for all-five of his portrayals!

RAGTIME”  It’s only been 16 years since Drabinsky scored Kudos for his RAGTIME offering Ticket demands were so great that even us media types couldn’t score any comps. SHAW’s Jackie Maxwell put her own mark on the play by emphasizing the politics, economics, and mores from three different aspects; white; black & immigrant. It was a tour-de-force and even managed to beat out ‘His Girl Friday’ which, of course touched many personal memories in this old reporter’s psyche! RAGTIME’s Patty Jamieson nailed the mater familias, but it was Thom Allison as ‘coalhouse’ & Jay Turvey playing the amalgam immigrant that made this a ‘must-see-it-twice hit.

“42nd STREET”  was our Best-in-Show work of the season. We came back from STRATFORD and immediately got on the blower to tell friends about what our bannerline stated “perfect”. Cynthia Dale returned to the Festival even more talented & polished; if such is actually possible.  But it was a Sheridan graduate who we had previously foretold of great things – Jennifer Rider-Shaw; that knocked off our proverbial socks. Director Gary Griffin’s wand made this work into a magical piece of theatre and certrainly deserved of our “Don’t Dare Miss” review comment. Like Irving Berlin wrote – there really is No Business like Show Business, and I wish WE could have seen it a dozen or so more times.  Hey, Stratford…when’s the CD coming out?

ANNIE GET YOUR GUN” It’s been six decades since Irving Berlin (see above) wrote a mostly fictional musical about the shooting Oakley and scored a Broadway bull’s eye with Tons of sing-along arias that were hits even out of context.  Hamilton’s Shooting Star Theatrics gave us a large-scale well-performed and immaculately directed interpretation. Julie Buffett & Leanne Guzzo assembled a talented cast; and with strong support from crew and technical expertise, this was a surprisingly professional result. See folks, community theatre can offer quality entertainment too.

RIGOLETTO”, Opera Hamilton ‘s Michael Cavanagh decided to update the Verdi tragedy but still retain the sense of the original by making it a contemporary setting but with a costume event so that the traditionalists would feel more comfortable. The music is timeless and the messages instilled in the lyrics can still talk to today. So what if Gilda has a laptop. The voices and strong acting by Jason Howard as Rigoletto, and Gordon Gietz; Taras Kulish; & Lauren Segal as his nemesis-es was only outdone by a dynamite Simone Osborne. ‘The Show must go on’ rehearsal circumstance involving Osborne must now be part of the Company’s folklore. P.s.  We also enjoyed Opera Hamilton’s Trovatore visibly – for the first time. But that story is for another column.

HAMILTON PHILHARMONIC  The HPO’s “Pops” year ended with guest conductor Matthew Kraemer of the BPO on the podium. His vocalist guests were Nicole Parker and Emily Rozek, both of whom had starred (at different times) in Broadway’s ‘Wicked’. We titled our review as Wicked-ly marvellous and it was. The talents of all three are non-pareil and the asides/commentaries by the two soloists were delicious.  The HPO musicians responded to the podium with alacrity and total focus contributing as professional a sound as even the most demanding audience member could desire. The rationale for the Top 10 inclusion; we were more than a little disappointed when the baton was finally placed on the music stand. At least another 40 minutes would have been great.

The Toronto Fringe entries are by definition, non-contenders but there have been some outstanding works that have gone on to, or deserve, an extended run. Peter Pan vs N.Y.; Joe White & the 7 Divorcees; Damages; etc. come to mind. This year it was “Numbers” and “Jem Rolls” that were outstanding, but all of the over two-dozen we saw demonstrated creative effort, ingenious subject matter and professional presentations. We enjoyed them all.

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